Al Farid : How enlightenment came

The great Sufi poet Umar Ibn Al Farid (1181 – 1234 CE) was born in Egypt of Syrian parents, and in his “Adorned Proem to the Diwan” described his journey to spiritual understanding in the following way.

When I first began my spiritual retreat, I would ask my father’s permission, and then go up to the Oasis of the Wretches on the second mountain of Cairo’s Muqattam range where I stayed, wandering around night and day. Then I would obediently return to my father in deference to him and his heart. […] He would be overjoyed by my return to him, and he would make me sit with him both in court and in teaching sessions. But then I would long for spiritual retreat, and so I would again ask his leave and return to wandering. I did this again and again until my father was asked to become the chief judge, but he declined the post and left the judiciary. He dropped out of public life and devoted himself to God most high at the Azhar mosque until his death – may God have mercy upon him. Then I returned to retreat and wandering, following the mystical path toward truth, but I was not enlightened in the least.

One day I ceased wandering and returned to Cairo, where I entered the law school. I found an old greengrocer there at the door of the law school doing ablutions out of order; he washed his hands, then his legs, then he wiped his head and washed his face.* So I said to him, “O Shaykh, you are this old, in the land of Islam, at the door of the law school, among the scholars of Muslim jurisprudence, yet you are doing the prayer ablutions out of the order prescribed by religion?” He looked at me and said, “Umar! You will not be enlightened in Egypt. You will be enlightened only in the Hijaz, in Mecca – may God glorify it! So head for it, for the time of your enlightenment is near!”

Then I knew that the man was among the saints of God most high and that he disguised himself with this lifestyle and by feigning ignorance of the order of ablutions. So I sat before him and said, “Oh sir, I am here but Mecca is so far away, and I will not find a mount or a travel companion in the non-pilgrimage months.” Then he looked at me, pointed and said, “Here is Mecca before you!” And I looked with him and saw Mecca – may God glorify it! So I left him and sought Mecca whose image remained before me until I entered it almost instantaneously. Then as I entered, enlightenment came to me wave after wave and never left.”

*Muslims must purify themselves before prayer, washing in the following order : hands, mouth, nose, face, lower arms, head, ears, feet.

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